The Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna are a unique collection of mosaics and monuments from the 5th and 6th centuries. Ravenna, an important port, was known under the Romans and Byzantines as Classis. It developed into a major centre of Christian art and culture on the instigation of Galla Placidia, the wife of Western Roman Emperor Constantius III (and regent of that empire herself for a few years). She was a fervant Christian and was involved in the building and restoration of various churches throughout her period of influence.
The 8 inscribed monuments are:
- Neonian Baptistery (c. 430)
- Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (c. 430)
- Arian Baptistry (c. 500)
- Archiepiscopal Chapel (c. 500)
- Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (c. 500)
- Mausoleum of Theodoric (520)
- Basilica of San Vitale (548)
- Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe (549)
Visit February 2009
Ravenna is a fairly large city, and the monuments that contain the mosaics are spread out over several locations. One is even in another town, in Classe. I had some trouble orientating myself at first, though there are signposts to the churches. And I had to take care where I was walking, because Ravenna appeared to be a town of cyclists, passing the pedestrians on all sides.
First I arrived at the Basilica of San Vitale. Here I paid the entrance fee of 8.5 EUR that is valid for 5 of the major monuments. What to say about the Basilica? It is an octagonal building, somewhere between Roman and Byzantine in style. Its interior has to be seen to be believed: there are mosaics everywhere, on the floor, at the walls, at the ceiling. Lots of gold, and clear Christian symbols.
At the back of the Basilica lies the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. This is a tiny building. Access is limited to 5 minutes, so I had to wait with a couple of others for our time slot. Certainly worth waiting for - the mosaics here seem a little older and less refined. But what a brilliant blue mosaic that covers the hallway!
Another cluster of these monuments is located about 15 minutes away by foot. Next to the giant Duomo lies the Neonian Baptistery. As small as the Mausoleum, but worthy in its own right. The floor and baptismal font (a former Roman bath) are made of marble and have lots of ornaments. The mosaics here cover part of the walls and the ceiling, completing the very fine overall interior.
The Archiepiscopal Chapel is closed at the moment, and I didn´t have time to go to the Basilica in Classe. However, the mosaics and monuments I have seen I can recommend to anyone.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
I visited this WHS in September 2012. It is truly a hidden gem! The terracotta monuments are a treasure chest of mosaics, one more beautiful than the other. I visited all 8 listed sites and my favourite is the Cappella S. Andrea (Arcivescovile), a small private chapel with fine mosaics (the highlight is the gold/blue sky with 99 species of birds). The least aweinspiring of the sites was perhaps the Mausoleo of Teodorico which is quite a walk out of the historical city centre. The Basilica in Classe is also worth visiting. I reckon Ravenna is one of my favourite WHS in Italy.
| Date posted: September 2012|
|Hubert Scharnagl (Austria):|
The Ravenna WHS consists of eight early Christian monuments of the 5th and 6th Century: basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleums. Probably the significance of the monuments alone would justify the inscription, because little is preserved from the period between the Roman Empire and the Christian Middle Ages. But the exceptional feature of the site are the marvellous mosaics.
We started our tour, like probably the most visitors, at the Basilica of San Vitale. San Vitale is an octagonal building and has mosaic decorations on the walls and the ceiling. The exceptionally well preserved mosaics depict scenes from the Old Testament and portraits of the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora accompanied by their entourage. The mosaics glow in gorgeous colours: blue, green and gold. It is hardly possible to describe how impressive they are and photos can not adequately illustrate their magnificence. You have to see them.
Close to the Basilica San Vitale is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Mosaics cover the entire surface of the vault, the central dome and large parts of the walls. The ceiling shows a deep blue sky with white and golden stars. The theme is the Redemption, Jesus is shown as the Good Shepherd with his sheep, and the apostles are depicted.
Next we went to the Neonian Baptistery near the Cathedral. It is dominated by the large octagonal baptismal font made of marble. The mosaic at the ceiling depicts the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Also the walls are decorated with mosaics and marble inlays. Next to the Cathedral is the Archiepiscopal Chapel (accessible via the museum), the only preserved private oratory of the orthodox bishops.
Another highlight is Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, a basilica with three naves and with Corinthian columns. The side walls are decorated with mosaics, on the left the procession of 22 virgins led by the Three Wise Men and on the right the procession of 26 martyrs. Noteworthy are the mosaics at the entrance showing the palace of Theodoric and the ancient harbour of Classe. After the conquest of Ravenna by Byzantine forces, the mosaics of Theodoric and his courtiers were removed and replaced by images of curtains. If you look closely you can see remains of the original figures like e.g. hands. The apse is from the Baroque period and does not harmonise with the rest of the church. On the way back to San Vitale is the small Arian Baptistry, the ceiling mosaic is preserved and shows the baptism of Jesus.
These six monuments are located within walking distance in the centre of Ravenna and are covered by a combined ticket for 9.50 Euro (in 2011). The Mausoleum of Theodoric is located in a small park just off the centre, you have to cross the railway line and a main road. It is not decorated with mosaics and you do not miss anything if you do not visit.
A particular highlight is the Basilica Sant'Apollinare in Classe, about 8 kilometres south of Ravenna. It's architecture is similar to the homonymous basilica in Ravenna, but the interior of the basilica has impressed me even more. The apse mosaic depicts the Transfiguration of Jesus, the first where Jesus is symbolized by a cross (photo). The lower part shows a green landscape with sheep and the Holy Apollinaris of Ravenna. If you have enough time, the detour to Classe is worthwhile.
It is really impossible to say which monument and mosaic is the most impressive. All of them are exceptionally well preserved, it's hard to believe that they are so old. Half a day is enough to visit all the monuments, the city of Ravenna itself has not much to offer compared to other cities in northern Italy.
| Date posted: May 2012|
|john booth (New Zealand):|
This is truely a city of stunning mosaics, and all but one of the 8 sites listed in this WHS is decorated with the most colourful of mosaic art. By contrast the Mausoleum of Theodoric has a few faded frescoes and a red stone hip bath. Why was this included in the WHS?
The two churches of St Appolina, one in Ravenna, the other in Classe were for me the most outstanding. I travelled between the two by bus #4 and by train.
In 2011, to visit all 8 sites cost E19.50.
| Date posted: September 2011|
|Isabel Salvatori (Mexico):|
Ravenna does not only have the most impressive mosaics that I've ever seen, but the town itself is also a really pleasant surprise. It is a very lovely town full of pintoresque corners and it is well worth a visit. If you are on your way to or from Venice, don't miss it!!
| Date posted: July 2006|
|Graeme Ramshaw ():|
Wow! There's no other word to describe the reaction when you enter the Basilica di San Vitale for the first time. The shimmering gold and the brilliant greens of the mosaics are just jaw-droppingly beautiful. Do you remember all those pictures from your art history or European history text books? Here they are. Justinian, Theodora, and the last vestiges of the glories of the Western empire are on display here. Due to Ravenna's having served as the capital of the empire for a short period after the sacking of Rome, there exist numerous other impressive monuments from the 5th and 6th centuries AD, such as Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo, and the Neonian Baptistery. All are easily visited in an afternoon, and all are covered by a joint ticket costing 9.50 euros (as of May 2005).
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